The 49ers in 2009 by the numbers: Special Teams

The 49ers special teams were one quarter special, one quarter solid, one quarter improving and one quarter awful.  I think we can all guess which quarter got special teams coordinator Al Everest "released from contract."  We know how awful the punt return game was, but as always, it's useful to go through the stats just to emphasize the ineptitude.  And of course we can see where the 49ers had success this season.

Special Teams Total
2009 DVOA: -0.6% (19th)
2008 DVOA: 4.6% (3rd)

We break down the reasons for this change below, but the big reason is of course the punt return number.  Florida Danny will have a better breakdown than me, but let's take an early look at the various units of the team.  We've mixed in the Football Outsiders' stats with some more traditional stats, all of which are telling about the special teams unit.

Punt Returns
Team Return Avg: 4.4 yards (32nd)
Longest return: 18 yards
Punt Return DVOA: -17.5% (32nd)

At the end of the season, the best punt return average among the healthy return men still on the roster?  Arnaz Battle and Brandon Jones tied at 2.9 yards per return.  FO breaks down the special teams into the units making it up and then provide rankings for each area.  The top punt return number in the league was 16.3, while the second worst number ahead of the 49ers was -10.4 from the Raiders.  Those disparities show the awfulness of the 49ers punt return unit, but we all know it was fairly easy to figure that out just by watching the unit week in and week out.  And when your longest punt return is only 4.5 yards longer than the league leader's average, well that's just not gonna be a good thing.

After the jump we look at the other three units...

Kick Returns
Team Return Avg: 21.8 yards (23rd)
Josh Morgan Return Avg: 28.2 yards (10th among all players with a return (his 13 returns did not qualify))
Kick Return DVOA: -3.6% (16th)

The 49ers struggled at times to develop their kick return game, but it definitely looked like a legit unit once Josh Morgan was moved back to return kicks.  The problem with this is that the team wants him to step up as their #2 wide receiver, and returning kicks opens him up to potential injuries.  We've had plenty of discussion about guys like Josh Cribbs and CJ Spiller, among many others.  The return game would seem to be an area we will definitely see addressed (and hopefully upgraded), so we'll keep an eye on that.

Kicking
FG: 17/21, long 51
XP: 33/33
Net Return Avg: 22.0 yards
Touchback Percentage: 7.9%
Kickoff DVOA: 2.6% (13th)
FG/XP DVOA: 1.9% (13th)

First off, I didn't include the stats of Ricky Schmitt and Shane Andrus because Nedney is clearly the guy going forward.  Joe Nedney's strength is in his consistency in the kicking game.  He's not a guy you want to have to rely on for a 55 yard game winning field goal.  His kickoffs aren't going to inspire anybody, but fortunately the 49ers coverage units are quite solid.  Generally, if you're looking for a steady option, he's the man.  He's getting up their in age, but given the horrors the 49ers experienced at kicker before him, I'll take Steady Joe anytime.  And we know this guy misses him in Nashville.

Punting
Gross Avg: 47.6 yards (2nd)
Net Avg: 42.6 (3rd)
Inside 20: 30 (t-6th)
Fair Catches: 14 (t-20)
Returns: 57 (2nd)
Return Avg: 8.7 yards (14th)
Punting DVOA: 12.8 (3rd)

I don't think a whole lot needs to be said about Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee.  Lee has shown incredibly consistency, averaging over a 47 yard gross the last three seasons.  Teams do get returns in, probably in part because of the strength of his leg.  And yet Lee doesn't usually out-kick his coverage.  While teams aren't often fair-catching, the punt coverage unit is able to get down and make the stop, which was a very important component for the 49ers in 2009.49ers vs Rams boxscore

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